5. ACID RAIN -- ONE OF AMERICA'S BIGGEST KILLERS
When acid rain was selected as one of the top ten "censored"
stories of 1977, its toll was cited in terms of contaminated soil, damaged crops,
dying trees, and dead fish. Today, acid rain may have become a household term
but few people are aware of its devastating toll in human terms. There is now
strong circumstantial evidence that acid rain is a significant threat to human
health and lives -- one of the "best kept secrets about airborne pollution."
1986, the Brookhaven National Laboratory of New York estimated that acid rain
annually kills 50,000 Americans plus 5,000 to 11,000 Canadians. Brookhaven claimed
that two percent of all deaths in the U.S. and Canada were acid rain related.
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an advisory body to Congress, rated
acid rain much more dangerous in 1988 than it had been in the previous three years.
And, in 1984, the OTA estimated the annual American death toll due to acid rain
at 50,000 to 200,000 -- triple their estimate of just two years earlier.
alarming, the OTA estimates may be conservative. In 1979, professors Robert Mendelsohn
and Guy Orcutt of Yale University analyzed two million death certificates and
another two million census observations. They concluded that acid rain contributed
to 187,686 deaths that year, while directly causing another 23,756.
study by Dr. Cedric Garland, Director of Cancer Epidemiology at the University
of California at Berkeley, revealed a pattern of increased cancers occurring throughout
the "acid rain belt" cutting across the northeast U.S. and eastern Canada.
Statistics from the area appear to support Dr. Garland -- during the five-year
period of 1982-1986, deaths from lung cancer in Vermont rose 28 percent; breast
cancer deaths increased from 77 in 1980 to 103 in 1986, a 34 percent increase.
early warning of the human dangers of acid rain was sounded 40 years ago. During
Halloween, 1949, an inversion layer settled over Donors, Pennsylvania, for 24
hours. The smoke from coal-burning factories mingled with a cool fall rain, descending
straight back to earth. When the inversion layer lifted, 21 people had died --
the cause: irritation of lungs and breathing passages by atmospheric sulfates.
The 21 were the first known American victims of acid rain, some 30 years before
the term "acid rain" reached public awareness.
are just now beginning to document the harm done by toxic metals released by acid
rain. Some, like lead, fall to earth with the acid itself; other toxic metals,
including aluminum, mercury, and cadmium, both fall from the sky and are leached
by acid runoff from rocks and soil. In addition to lethal metals, acid raindrops
often contain man-made chemicals such as DDT and PCBs. And there is a strong likelihood
that acid rain may be contributing to asbestos water pollution.
Reagan era, while acid-rain legislation was thwarted, acid rain would appear to
have been causing Americans more respiratory disease than any source besides smoking.
Nor is it just an American problem. In 1987, the United Nations Environment Program
and the World Health Organization warned that acid rain now threatens the physical
well-being of half a billion people worldwide.
Jan 28-Feb 4, 1988, "Acid Rain Is Killing Five to 20 Times as Many Americans
as AIDS," by Merritt Clifton, pp 10-11.